As is my usual practice, I arose somewhat early on Sunday November 28, 2010 and decided to check Ebay for what I hoped would be a nice Christmas present from my wife. Experience has taught me that it is not prudent to leave such things up to chance, at least not in my family.
Logging into Ebay I decided to search for a vintage Gibson ES-295, a rather unique and somewhat hard to find guitar. To my surprise, about eighty of these 1950s era electric guitars popped up in my initial search, which is about 79 more than I normally find, if I find any at all. The problem: all these listings were from the same seller, all had the same photo and description and all professed to be a “one-of-a-kind” guitar factory modified for a very well known guitar collector. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out something was very wrong. Doing a quick check on this seller “P******”, I found over 4600 listings of extremely rare and high-end guitars all with a buy-it-now price of $2000. Doing the math, that is 9.2 million dollars!!! The seller had carefully copied a number of pre-existing listings for high-end guitars then replicated each listing as many as eighty times, all with the same buy-it-now price, all using the same photos and descriptions. No points for cleverness but he certainly has some balls and this took some time to unleash. It was obvious that the P****** seller account had been carefully chosen and hi-jacked by one Sam Baxter, at least that’s the name he used on his email account.
Carefully checking the listing, some interesting facts quickly emerged; P******* is a very big time and reputable seller on Ebay with a very good seller rating and has is one of the most active sellers on Ebay, selling mostly charm bracelets and charms… about 300,000 so far and counting. Another anomaly, the seller used P******’s standard listing layout but at the bottom, modified the listing requesting that the buyer contact the seller at the email address Sambaxter@live.com rather than use the standard Ebay check out process. It would soon become painfully aware why this seller and this process were selected: This was a big time rip-off and there was literally no way to tell Ebay or the seller what was going on.
The seller is so big in fact, they no longer allow email queries which is really convenient if you are attempting to run a ten million dollar rip-off but not so good if you are trying to tell P****** that his seller account has been hi-jacked. Sam had done his homework and chosen P****** specifically for this reason.
Unable to reach the seller, I figured someone at Ebay would want to know about this, which they obviously did not. I went through the various web pages looking for a way to let Ebay know that someone was running a $10 million rip-off but turns out that Ebay doesn’t have a phone. You’d think someone who supposedly is as smart as Meg Whitman CEO at Ebay would have had the foresight to install a telephone, but she must not be as bright as the company brochure’s make her out to be. It is now about 10:00 AM and I am no closer to informing Ebay than an hour ago.
I finally found a way to report an item as in a single item by pulling up each listing individually and using the “report listing violation” link. Only once this page is displayed, there isn’t an option for “Hey you idiots, someone is running a ten million dollar scam on your web site”. The best I could do: report the individual listing as a copyright infringement. I figured others had noticed this so I refreshed the search page and the number had gone down by about three. That’s three out of 4600. I found 17 other listings of rare guitars, each replicated 50 or more times. I was able to report these 17 bogus listings…. One listing at a time. Then I figured what the hell, if the idiots at Ebay don’t care, why should I. So I turned on the Panthers-Browns Game and took a nap.
At about 5:00 PM, eight hours later, I checked this seller's listings in guitars and noticed that the number of listings was diminishing but still in the thousands. Apparently, the highly skilled employees at Ebay were deleting the listings as they were being reported: one at a time. So now, instead of eighty one-of-a-kind Gibson ES-295 guitars, there were only 13. No way to know how many had actually been sold.
So I bought one. Well not exactly I just told Sam I wanted to buy one. And no sooner had I contacted Sam than he fired back an email on how I should pay him for this guitar. Sam also told me I would get an official Ebay invoice. This is where it gets really ugly. Had I paid for this item by sending the payment to Sam via the directions clearly provided in the listing, I would have been out $2000 and no protections under the much vaunted Ebay Buyer Protection Plan. So now it becomes obvious why Ebay didn’t care, it wasn’t going to cost them a dime. I am sure that a number of buyers, in good faith purchased these items and following the directions in the listing, got ripped off $2000. And I am equally sure none will be reimbursed by Ebay. This was a $10,000,000 scam and not one word has been reported on this….